Pumping iron

By | Health & Wellness
Weightlifting and muscle toning exercises such as yoga have been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing diabetes in women. Credit Image @Monika Mogre, flickr.com

A new study published in the online journal PLoS Medicine by a research team from Harvard University has shown muscle strengthening sports may have a significant effect on decreasing a woman’s chances of contracting diabetes.

Diabetes is a worldwide condition, affecting 370 million people across the globe. Its most common form, type 2 diabetes, is typified by high blood sugar levels as a result of increased insensitivity to insulin, the hormone secreted by the pancreas which normally reduces blood sugar levels by incorporating it in metabolically demanding tissues such as in the liver or in muscle mass, or depositing it as fat.

In a healthy individual, carbohydrates from food such as bread and pasta are fragmented down by enzymes into sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream. The rise in sugar levels is detected by cells in the pancreas, which respond by secreting insulin. As the muscle and fat cells become ‘immune,’ so to speak, to the hormone, the sugar levels in the blood remain high, leading to other conditions such as depletion of vision, with some scientists even describing diabetes as a factor in Alzheimer’s.

The productive effects of aerobic exercises such as jogging have been known to reduce the chances of developing diabetes, with the World Health Organization recommending at least 150 minutes per week to reduce the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. However the effects of strength training sports such as weightlifting and yoga in the prevention of the condition have yet to be studied in depth.

The team looked at 99,316 women from two sets of data from the Nurse’s Health Study (53–81 years, 2000–2008; 36–55 years, 2001–2009), all of whom had a healthy baseline and an absence of diabetes symptoms.

The women were asked to record the amount and type of exercise they were completing each week, including resistance (weightlifting) exercises, minor intensity muscular conditioning exercises like yoga, and varying intensities of aerobic exercise.From the study group, 3,491 cases of type 2 diabetes were reported.

However, those solely doing resistance or muscle strengthening exercises showed a decreased chance of developing the condition, in any case of whether they incorporated aerobic exercise into their sports regimen. Women who partook in these forms of exercises showed a 40% decrease in likelihood, compared to women remained sedentary.The study thus showed non-aerobic forms of exercise offer protection from the condition as well as aerobic sports.

Some areas of the study need to be worked on: the majority of the women were of Caucasian descent, with the paper saying how the results may be applicable for women from other backgrounds needs to be considered, and the hours of exercise undertaken by the participants was reported, rather than directly measured, meaning accuracy may be slightly biased.

Importantly, women who reported doing a variety of sports, combining muscle strengthening with aerobic exercises, showed a substantial reduction in the chances of developing diabetes, even more than those who enjoyed muscle strengthening sports only.

The research goes to show that leading an active, healthy lifestyle is beneficial in so many ways, and the variation in the forms of exercise and sports available mean everyone’s tastes may be catered to, whether preferring to run outside or pumping iron at the local gym.

How might weight exercises be implemented in schools’ PE programs?

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